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Friday, May 31, 2013

When Jesus and Paul Disagree

In a recent dialog on this blog it was suggested, perhaps indirectly, that Paul and Jesus might have disagreed on something that is part of our Bible. The topic (not relevant to this discussion -- just for clarification) was whether or not it was possible to be pro-life and pro-capital punishment. The post cited Paul (among others). A commenter cited Jesus. Ergo, it would appear that Jesus and Paul disagreed on the topic of capital punishment, with Paul falling on the "pro" side and Jesus clearly standing opposed.

What to do when Jesus and Paul (or any other Scripture) disagree? How do we decide which was right? Well, that's easy, isn't it? The Son of God would be right and anyone who disagrees with Him would be wrong. Problem solved. Or is it?

Have you heard of "red letter Christians"? That's a cute way of indicating those people who classify themselves as Christians by taking those red-letter texts -- you know, the ones that Jesus said -- as absolutely true and setting the rest aside as questionable at best. Those who think like that are fine with my decision-making process above.

So who would not be fine with it? Well, Paul, for starters. He's the one who wrote that all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). So if Jesus is God Incarnate (John 1:1-3), then all Scripture is, technically, the words of Jesus. (Remember, John refers to Him as "the Logos", the Word, the actual expression of God.) Even Paul's. Peter held that Paul's writings were Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). So if all Scripture is God-breathed, then what Paul wrote is just as much Jesus's words as what the red letter versions put up as Jesus's words. And, of course, Jesus held the Old Testament as Scripture, so that would be just as much Jesus's words as anything in the New Testament.

What do I do when Jesus and Paul disagree? Nothing, really. Because, well, they don't. So the problem isn't them. The problem is me. That's when I back up and figure out where I made the wrong turn. And, as it turns out, I usually find it pretty easily. But pitting Scripture against Scripture -- even Jesus against Paul or Peter or anyone else -- is a bad option if you're going to take Scripture seriously. Countering a Scripture with a Scripture is all well and good as long as you plan to make them agree. Proving that Scripture contradicts someone's point of view is just fine. Arguing that Scripture contradicts Scripture -- that Jesus contradicts Paul -- proves something that won't help you at all.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

When Worlds Collide

A lot of the intramural debate in Christianity focuses on the word "world". The word, they tell me, is found some 187 times in the New Testament. You will find it in a variety of places. You will find that God "so loved the world" (John 3:16). You will learn that Jesus "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). We are warned not to "love the world or the things in the world" (1 John 2:15), and that "all that is in the world ... is not from the Father" (1 John 2:16). We should not be surprised "that the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). Yet, we find that Christ did not come "into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:17). (That was three times in one sentence.) And that's just a sampling. Oddly enough, the New Testament almost never uses the word "world" to mean the Earth. It means something else. But that's okay. We all know what it is. It's ... what? "World means world," they tell me. I'm not so sure it's that easy, and I'm not trying to be difficult here.

Look at some examples. Take, for instance, John 1:10. Speaking of Christ, John says, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him." So, "world means world," right? So does it mean "the earth" or "all people" or perhaps "the sinful world system"? Because all of those can be meanings intended in Scripture and none of them fit in all three places.

"He was on the earth, and the earth was made through Him, yet the earth did not know Him." Well, yes, He was on the earth and the earth was made by Him, but there is no sense in which "the earth" can actually know anyone, so that doesn't work.

"He was amongst all people, and all people were made through Him, yet all people did not know Him." Well, He was sort of amongst "all people", except for all of us and, oh, I don't know, anyone outside of Palestine at the time or any other time. Sure, all people were made through Him, but it is not true that all people did not know Him. I mean, there are some who get saved, right?

"He was in the sinful world system, and the sinful world system was made through Him, yet the sinful world system did not know Him." The first and last clause, perhaps, work, but not that middle one. (I don't really like the first one, either.) The Incarnate Son of God did not make the sinful world system. That was our doing.

Nope, those don't work. Somewhere along the way each of those fails to fit.

How about John 3:17? "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him."

"For God did not send His Son into the earth to condemn the earth, but in order that the earth might be saved through Him." No, the earth was not condemnable (No, I didn't just make that word up) because the earth is inanimate. Nor is the earth to be saved.

"For God did not send His Son to all people to condemn all people, but in order that all people might be saved through Him." That was working pretty well right up until "all people might be saved through Him" ... since not all people are saved through Him.

"For God did not send His Son into the sinful world system to condemn the sinful world system, but in order that the sinful world system might be saved through Him." Indeed, the sinful world system is condemned, and it is not going to be saved.

Here, consider this problem. In Rom 5:12 we learn that "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned." See? There was no death prior to Adam's sin. But wait! In 2 Peter 3:5-6 we read, "For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished." Well, there it is, plain as day. Since "world means world", the "world" referred to in Romans 5 is not the same one as the one referred to in 2 Peter 3. The latter says there was a previous world ("the world that then existed") and that one was wiped out to make a new world, the world we now know. See? Easy answers for Evolutionists and against Young-Earthers! Never heard that one before, did you? But there it is in the pages of your Bible, so it must be true. That is, if you're willing to simply argue that "world means world".

As it turns out, there are multiple uses of the Greek term, kosmos, and while they are almost always translated "world", there is no sense in which you can claim "world means world". The word itself refers to any orderly system and may mean the universe, the Earth, the sinful world system, humans (sometimes as a whole, sometimes humans minus believers, sometimes a lot of humans but not all), the elect, the non-elect, Jews and Gentiles (in contrast to just Jews), or even the general public (as opposed to private individuals or groups). How is that for starters? So do your due diligence. Examine the text, the context, the sense of it. How does it correlate to the rest of Scripture? (It has to correlate, not contradict. Don't let your "worlds" collide.) Do your homework. As people of the Word, we owe it to God to properly understand His Word. And don't fall for that simplistic "world means world" idea as if "We're taking it literally; what are you doing?" The aim is to take it as written, and that's not always immediately obvious. Do the work. It's worth it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chasing the Laser Dot

Anyone who has ever had a cat or has access to the Internet has likely seen any number of times that a cat will chase a laser dot. You know how it goes. That shiny spot drives them crazy. Everything else goes away and they must catch the dot ... which doesn't actually exist except as a single image. It's not a "thing". It's not like it has some substance they can use or that there is something they will gain by catching it. We use it with our cat to lure her out of the bedroom at night. It is a great way to distract any cat any time.

Or a Christian.

Consider, for instance, the abortion question. Our position is simple -- human life is valuable. It is worth protecting and saving. We are in favor of human life. In comes the laser dot. "Oh? Well, what about cases of rape?" Do you see how that is not part of the question? Do you see how it does not address the issue? And if you can answer, however you answer, you will not have gained anything of substance. "What about a woman's right to choose???" Another laser dot. Not the point. Not at issue. "So you don't care about women's health issues??!!" Still not the point. Still a distraction intended to offer you something where you think if you can meet their requirements you can gain a foothold without realizing you're chasing a laser dot.

Or how about the whole homosexuality question? We'll take our stand on Scripture. Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Romans, Corinthians, Timothy -- it is abundantly clear to anyone who wishes to read it that the Bible has a singular stand on the subject, and it's not favorable. That particular behavior is a sin, something that God considers abominable, depraved, worthy of damnation. And in comes the laser dot to lure you off subject. "But if they're born that way, doesn't that mean that God made them that way and it's good?" The premise is questionable and the question is horrible and we still chase it down as if it's something, as if it is substantive, as if we can gain something by answering it. Or, perhaps just as popular these days, "My son/daughter/aunt/nephew is gay." As if the fact that it's a relative will alter Scripture or God's opinion. "Oh, well," God booms from heaven, "I never thought about it in those terms. Thanks for clearing that up for Me. I've changed My mind. It's not abominable." But we'll chase the dot anyway, trying to satisfy the objections of people intent only on distracting us from the starting point.

Close behind that is the whole "gay marriage" lunacy. It's lunacy because it is now in the Supreme Court and part of the laws of some of our states and it doesn't exist. All biblical references to marriage are in terms of male and female. No biblical references to marriage include same-sex couples. All biblical references to same-sex sexual relations indicate that it is morally abhorrent. No biblical reference offers a positive statement. Beyond that, all of human history and all of Church history has held that marriage is the union of a man and a woman as the fundamental component of any society. So what is the laser dot being thrown our way? "Marriage equity." It's even on church signs. "Marriage equality is for everyone." What? In what world does that make sense? No one actually believes that. But instead of standing your ground on the standard, universal, historical, biblical definition of marriage, we're required to chase down this new laser dot and explain why we're opposed to equal protection and equity. No explanation will serve to satisfy that demand except to give up history, tradition, and Scripture. Any stance on history, tradition, and Scripture is labeled hateful and anti-something. But here we are, still chasing that dot.

Christianity itself is full of these distractions. Take a stand for Christianity and you will surely be thrown, for instance, the errors of Christians. "Oh, my parents were Christians and they did horrible things." "Oh, yeah? What about the whole Crusades thing? How do you defend Christianity for that?" "Really? You think Christianity is a good thing? How can you even associate yourself with those hateful Westboro Baptist folk and their hateful ways?" Everyone, even genuine Christians, it seems, has an anecdote of what Christians done them wrong. And it's a laser dot. A distraction. Something without substance which, when caught, evaporates in your hands without any aid to your cause. None of it detracts from Christianity and no answers can explain why things done counter to Christ should make people view Christianity in a positive light. Because it's not Christianity. And then there's that whole exclusivity thing. "How can you possibly say that yours is the only way???!!!" Okay, well, maybe that's not as much of a laser dot issue. I mean, it's a fact. And the only rational one. Still, the question isn't offered on the basis of genuine curiosity. It is offered as a distraction, a laser dot, to make you chase down another empty target while they lead you out of the Gospel and into a pointless debate.

Are there answers to these dots? Sure. Are there people who genuinely want answers? I suppose. A few. But you must realize that for the vast majority of the times you are asked to discuss these issues, you are being played. These are distractions, smoke screens, laser dots. You'll diligently and with all your might chase down this exciting new thing and, with both hands wrapped tightly around the point, find you've run out on the actual issue to pursue things without substance whose actual answers don't persuade anyone. Just like my cat ... who now finds herself locked out of the bedroom just before bed time. Sigh. Again.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Free Kate

Have you heard about this horrendous injustice wrought in Florida? Apparently Kaitlyn Hunt is an 18-year-old high school cheerleader who was charged with having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old high school classmate (female). She has been expelled for the behavior and is facing two counts in Florida of "lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16."

Can you imagine? What's wrong with these people in Florida? Apparently they're just haters. On their support website to "Free Kate" (to which I won't link as a courtesy) commenters are saying encouraging things like, "high school romance, and nothing more", "Its [sic] sad that this is what our world has come to." and "It might be time to ... hunt the religious extremists." Nice.

So, we've come to this. Morality is determined by "What I want to do" and not much else. The law is irrelevant. Age is not a factor. Gender may be a factor if a male is involved, I suppose, but if it is two girls involved in a case of "lewd and lascivious battery on a child", it ought to be legal and, hey, while we're at it, endorsed! Embrace grace, man! Embrace love! (Well, I suppose if we're talking about consensual sexual relations between a 40-year-old male and a 12-year-old male, that has to still be wrong, right? On what basis I'm not entirely sure, but, it is, isn't it?) Whatever the case, it's not about law and it's not about morality and it's not about right or wrong. We've arrived at the purest of dichotomies where we love and abhor the law. We love it when it gives us what we want (like "equal protection") and hate it when we don't (like "license for statutory rape"). And the primary method of getting what you want is to call those who refuse you "haters", "homophobes", or even (cover your ears, Mom) rightwing fundamentalist Christians. Now those ought to be shot.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day, 2013

The celebration of Memorial Day began ... some time ago. It started out in individual cities recognizing those who gave their lives in our nation's service. It was in the South where women's groups decorated graves at the end of the Civil War. In May of 1868 General John Logan issued orders to official honor the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. New York was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1873. And it kept spreading from there.

World War I brought a new set of honorees. Groups sprang up who used the occasion to raise money for needy servicemen and war orphans. Americans proudly honored our fallen soldiers, sailors, and Marines (and, later, airmen).

Today, Memorial Day is largely a celebration of the arrival of summer and barbecue season. If we remember those who have died in the defense of our freedom, we often do so with apathy at best and, too often, disdain. It seems as if giving your life for a noble cause is a bad thing in a society where getting is most highly prized.

So I'll make this short. Don't forget those who have given their lives so that you can enjoy the freedoms you enjoy. Don't forget the price of freedom. And don't forget to be grateful for the freedoms you have that were so dearly bought. Today would be a good day for that. Hey, maybe you could have a barbecue in honor of that remembrance? Just a thought.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Give Thanks to the LORD

Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples.
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
Glory in His holy name;
Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad.
Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face continually.
Remember His wonders which He has done,
His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth (Psa 105:1-5)
Wait ... hold on ... I mean, I was following along just fine until you got to "Remember His wonders ... and the judgments uttered by His mouth." Are you sure you want to go there? I mean that's not a pleasant thing, is it?

The psalmist thinks it is. Ranked up there with His wonders and glories, His strength and His marvels, are His judgments. That's a good thing. It's a reason to give thanks, to rejoice, to sing, to speak, to glory in His name. I would recommend we side with Him on this.

Oh give thanks to the LORD. Today would be a good time. And don't forget to thank Him for His wonders and deeds, His marvels and strength, and, yes, His judgments. While you're at it, you can ask Him for some help getting that straight in your head because I'm sure we all need a little help with that. "I believe, Lord. Help Thou my unbelief."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Baby Question

In my day it was never a question whether or not a married couple would have children. Oh, sure, there were a few rare ones, but it was not the norm to question whether or not to have children. Indeed, it was not even the question of when. When I was a kid, contraception was relatively new on the scene as an acceptable thing, so having children early in marriage was expected. And "Honey, the doctor says I'm pregnant" was typically not bad news.

Today? Not so much. Many still plan to have children "someday" (without an actual, definite definition of "someday"), but "We're focusing on our marriage right now." There are other things more important at the moment. Save for a house, finish school, pay off loans, establish a career, you know. "We want children eventually, but we can't afford them right now. Right now we're taking care of us." Very common. Very wise. At least in the popular perception. (But, of course, in the popular perception, "No, we don't ever want to have kids; too much demand" is equally wise.)

I started thinking about this. (It's an easy one for me. I have four kids.) Christians are (or should be) "pro-life". That is, we are convinced that we are made in the image of God and, as such, come into this world with nearly infinite worth just by being humans in the image of God. Further, Christians (any Christians who have bothered to read their Bibles) know that the Bible is uniformly positive on the topic of children. They are a blessing, a gift from God, a prime purpose for marriage, the next generation, and so on. There is not a hint in all of Scripture regarding anything like "You should wait to have children until you're ready, you know? Make sure you're financially secure and emotionally prepared." None of today's wisdom on the subject as far as holding off having kids is found in the pages of the Bible.

So, here's my "baby question". If the Bible is universally in favor of children for married people and if we believe that there is genuine and deep value in life, in human life, in the image of God found in people (including every single baby), then why would any couple wish to delay that event? In what sense is "We want to be more comfortable/capable/settled/whatever" a reasonable concept in delaying the blessing and value of children? That is, if children really are God's blessing and of such value, how could you not make every effort to have and afford them? Remember Jesus's treasure-in-the-field parable (Matt 13:44)?

Like I said, just a question. I wonder if our "We can't afford kids right now" concept isn't more of an indication of a serious problem of priorities rather than wise thinking. Sometimes it seems like we have imbibed too much of the world's "wisdom" which the Bible calls foolishness and I'm wondering if this isn't one of those times.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pro-Life and the Death Penalty

In her 20 minutes in front of the jury of her peers to plead for her life, Jodi Arias made a variety of suggestions as to why she shouldn't be executed for the premeditated and brutal murder of her boyfriend. She was a nice person, you see. Why, she donated her hair to Locks of Love for wigs for cancer patients. She wanted to sell t-shirts and give the proceeds to organizations for battered women. She wanted to teach fellow inmates to speak Spanish. I mean, how could you execute such a good person? One of the more interesting arguments she made went something like this. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison. It can be a long time or a short time. You decide if it's a short time. So the only ones that will suffer if it's a short time will be my family because I'll be dead. So I beg you not to hurt my family like that. I want the healing to begin for everyone." Sigh. It kind of makes you want to hug her and say, "Look, Jodi, we're sorry for convicting you of that heinous crime, and the fact that you're currently the most hated woman in America is all wrong." Kind of. Or not.

Jodi, however, raises the question. Really? Execution? How is that helpful? How is that just? How does that punish the guilty? And, more importantly, how can a pro-life person stand for it? I mean, look at the Gosnell case. We're pro-life and opposed to doing what he did -- killing babies -- and we're suggesting he ought to be killed for doing it. Oh, wait. Does that work? Does it? Indeed, statistically it appears that almost all pro-life folk in the question of abortion are also pro-death-penalty folk in the question of murder (and other similar crimes). Isn't that contradictory?

The first thing to consider comes from my own worldview. If it is true that the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice, that the Bible is indeed the Word of God, then I have to ask, "Is it biblical?" And, as it turns out, it clearly is. After the Flood, God told Noah, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image" (Gen 9:6). And, lest you think that was an "Old Testament thing, no longer applicable today", Paul told the Romans that God ordains governments and that they are right to carry out the death penalty on wrong-doers (Romans 13:1-5). Sorry, folks, that "Old Testament" argument won't stand up. It's for us as well.

The Bible makes it clear why God ordained the death penalty in cases of murder. It is a matter of justice. Not human justice. God's justice. It is a matter of value. Humans are made in the image of God. If you maliciously destroy that image, you owe a debt to God that cannot be paid with "life in prison" or any such thing. It requires a kind-for-kind payment. Justice is at issue here. Not revenge. Not payback. And not "suffering" like Arias suggested. Payment.

Another aspect is shown in Scripture as well. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear" (1 Tim 5:19-20). The elder who persisted in sin was publicly rebuked "so that the rest may stand in fear." Deterrence. Now, some have argued that the death penalty for murder does not deter, but Solomon wisely wrote, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil" (Eccl 8:11). Our modern failure to carry out a just sentence does not equate to the lack of deterrence. In truth, when there are known and rather unpleasant consequences for a crime, less people commit them.

Deterrence brings up, as it turns out, a key component of this line of thinking. If we are pro-life, we are in favor of protecting life. Deterring people from murdering would do just that. Thus, if "the sentence against an evil deed" (the death penalty in this case) is executed speedily, there would rationally be a reduction in murders. As a consequence, life would enjoy greater protection. As it is, murderers represent a threat to the innocent and to the harmony of society, and deterring people from remaining or becoming this threat is certainly pro-life.

One other key point: Pro-life specifically argues for the protection of innocent human life, consistent with Genesis 9:6. Otherwise, God has a real problem ... with Himself. "Look, God," the argument might go, "if You made man in Your own image and we are required to kill those who kill those made in Your image, aren't we killing those made in Your image?" Circular, you see? But God didn't think so. Thus, it is not simple killing in view when the death penalty is carried out. It is the execution of the guilty and the protection of the innocent. (Note that God instituted different punishments, for instance, in cases of accidental murder. A matter of guilty and innocent.)

In a discussion like this the objection will certainly be raised about the specifics. We know, for instance, that the poor have been executed far more often than the rich. (Exhibit A: O.J. Simpson.) And statistically race has played too much of a factor. And the news is full of too many times that people have been arrested and convicted and sometimes even executed only to discover that they were innocent. That's not good. But I need to point out that that's different argument. Can we justly and faithfully try people for murder, convict them, and execute them? Does practice meet principle? Being human, we have problems with justice. And we need, as far as we are able, to address those problems. The biblical standard was "two or three witnesses". We convict without any. And even with that standard we know that people lie. (See Jesus's trial with the Sanhedrin if you doubt it.) So much of a problem is this that the Roman Catholic Church has officially stated that capital punishment is wrong on this basis. We can't know, so don't do it.

I would argue that God disagrees (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:1-5). I would argue that God expects humans to carry out the death penalty in cases of murder. But more importantly, I would argue that the Bible, justice, the deterrence aspect, the protection of life that it would bring, and the distinction between innocent and guilty human life all combine to demonstrate the principle that the death penalty is pro-life and those who are followers of Christ and the Word of God should also be both pro-life and in favor of the death penalty. It is completely understandable that the latter might be a matter of concern given our unjust track record, but that wouldn't change the principle, would it? We would just have to work on the outworking of it. On the other hand, trying to correlate Scripture with an anti-death-penalty stance would seem to make God out to be evil, since He commanded it, so I'm going to have to stand on this side of the question. I'm pro-life, and I'm pro-death penalty.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Success and Faithfulness

Carl Trueman writes "What if Life was Complex?" and talks about a fictional "Evangelical Industrial Complex". Or is it fictional at all?
I thought I would use this column to indulge in a little thought experiment. What, I wonder, if the conservative evangelical church world came to be dominated by a symbiotic network of high profile and charismatic leaders (think more Weber than Wimber), media organisations, and big conferences? What if leadership, doctrine, and policy were no longer rooted in the primacy of biblical polity and the local church? What if, in other words, all of this became a function of an Evangelical Industrial Complex?
A world where charisma and clamor overcomes character, criticism, and orthodoxy. Read it. Scary stuff.

One of Trueman's points is really telling. He suggests in this "thought experiment" that in a world where celebrity overcomes other considerations, there is a key question. Does the ethic of success supplant the principle of faithfulness? Here's the idea. Instead of standing on what God says, we begin to stand on "what works", "what they like", "what is acceptable to the culture", "what brings people in" -- success. We'd keep the language of "faithfulness to the Word of God" but redefine the terms enough so that the meaning changes to correspond with the image of success.

The current BSA crisis is a fine example. The Boy Scouts of America are to meet today to decide whether the hard-earned and very expensive victories won in court and the strongly principled stance they've taken as late as last July will remain. The Supreme Court held that if the Boy Scouts believed that the exclusion of homosexuals from their group was a core conviction, an "expressive message", then they had the right to exclude them. And the Scouts claimed it was.

But that stance was expensive. They have been assaulted and boycotted, vilified and castigated, and a whole bunch of other mean-sounding words. When they sought, earlier this year, to renege on this "expressive message", the outrage made them pull that option back. So they surveyed the parents to figure out what to do. And now it looks like their plan is to keep openly-gay adults out while accepting openly-homosexual boys.

Remember, the point here is not whether or not BSA is right. The question is between success and faithfulness. The Boy Scouts of America have seen the "success" of their organization decline. They have been attacked and insulted and boycotted. That is not "success". To return to a "successful" condition, they simply need to stop being faithful to their principles. Give up their stance on morality, their "expressive message", and they can return to "success".

You see, you don't determine morality or your "expressive message" by survey and popular opinion. And the BSA has already caved to popular opinion simply by asking parents what they wanted. Thus, the BSA has defined "success" as something other than faithfulness to principles, something other than an underlying moral code. They have put principle up for a vote, which now will require all BSA principles to be in question and flux. And that doesn't seem much like success to me.

Well, they were just an example, current events to illustrate the point. Just look around at your local churches. I'm sure you can find your own current illustrations of the point. We're redefining "success" from what God defines as "success" and moving away from "faithfulness to the Word of God" in order to be more popular, more "seeker friendly", more acceptable to the world. And if that last phrase doesn't raise any alarms in your head, you ought to read your Bible more.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Making Evil Good

Theodicy is the defense of God in the face of evil. The question of the skeptic is how a good God can allow evil. The accusation is that He is either not powerful enough or not loving enough to fix that problem. Open Theists try to excuse God by saying that He doesn't know what Free Will Humans will do and, so, can only respond to them, not prevent them. Others argue only slightly less offensively that God has limited His Sovereignty to Man's Free Will and is "forced" (they would never use that term) to let them sin. The Bible has a different response to the problem.

What we have today as the New Testament is largely a product ... of evil. Many of our New Testament books were letters written by Apostles for the purpose of correcting heresies. The Corinthians suffered from licentiousness and an over-emphasis on sensuality. The Galatians had a problem with legalism. The Colossians were battling Gnosticism. Paul's letters to Titus and Timothy condemned heretical teachings and teachers. Peter, John, and Jude warned against false teachers and their "destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). The Revelation's letters to the churches addressed many heresies already present in churches. Now, there is no doubt that heresy is evil. And before the end of the writing of the New Testament, there was a lot of evil already present.

But that's a good thing, you see. Not the evil, but what God did with it. He produced, from all that evil, our Bible today. From the necessity of addressing all that error God brought forth the Word of God that teaches us today His will and His thoughts and His commands. And that's a good thing.

In Genesis, Joseph's brothers sought to kill him, then opted instead to sell him into slavery. It went bad for Joseph from there. Falsely accused of rape, imprisoned and forgotten, it all looked bad. And it could not be described as less than evil.

The outcome, however, was not. When Joseph reflected on it, he told his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." This affirms that it was evil and was intended to be evil. On the other hand, it affirms both that God intended for it all to happen (He wasn't just a passenger along for the ride hoping to make something good out of Human Free Will) and brought about good because of it. Evil is evil; God used genuine evil to produce good.

"Yeah, yeah, but what about the real evil -- people going to Hel?. How can eternal punishment be classified as good?" Funny thing. That one, a very popular complaint to be sure, is not regarding evil. It is regarding justice. First problem there, then, is that we (not God) fail to comprehend the magnitude of sin. Okay, fine. But, still, we're talking about eternal torment. How can that be good? Paul said that it was God's will that He would "demonstrate His power and wrath on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." Obviously, as a "vessel of wrath prepared for destruction", that wouldn't seem good, but from the perspective that God is the Number One value in the universe, displaying His power and wrath would definitely be classified as "good". Indeed, without human sin, all sorts of attributes in God's character would be invisible. Power and wrath would start the list, but other important characteristics like holiness, justice, mercy, and grace would never be seen if there was no need for them.

In all these things, there is evil. Evil remains evil. It is the intent of the enemies of God. It isn't accidental and it isn't good. In all these things, God used the evil of His enemies to produce good. The Word, the salvation of Israel, the display of His character, these are just a few examples. In all of them there is the clear intent of sinners for evil and the clear intent of God for good. The title, "Making Evil Good", is misleading. Evil cannot be made good. But in all cases God does produce good from evil. How do you defend a God who allows evil to continue? If He is producing good with it, it's kind of unnecessary to defend Him, isn't it? And when you face evil, remember God. He works all things together for good. Even the evil you face.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Be Fruitful and Subtract

God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen 1:28)
Welcome to the First Command. This is the very first instruction God gave to Man. Well, to Adam. Whose name, of course, means "Man". God created male and female in His own image and then you have this prime directive, so to speak.

There are many today who would argue that it is not our directive. It is not an imperative that relates to modern man. This would mean that contraception is a great idea and any couples who aim to never "be fruitful and multiply" for whatever reason they choose are perfectly fine in doing so. "Back off! That was a command to Adam, not to everyone!" Or so. Well, not quite. It was a command to Noah (Gen 9:1) when they exited the ark. And it was a command to Jacob (Gen 35:11) when God changed his name to Israel and sealed His covenant with Israel. But, look, that's just three guys in the history of the world. No longer applicable. Set that aside.

I'm having a real hard time with that. For multiple reasons.

First, there is the content of the first command. It isn't, as it turns out, only to be fruitful and multiply. The command has an "and". Along with filling the earth, Man (Adam) was commanded to subdue the earth. It was, in fact, part of God's design. "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule ...'" (Gen 1:26). It was the plan before it was the command. And it was part of God's first command to humans. Rule the earth. If, however, we are willing to set aside the "be fruitful and multiply" command, we would also need to set aside the "rule the earth" command as well. They were given in tandem and connected to each other.

Second, the repetition of the command when given to Noah was part of a covenant. It was part of God's covenant with Man following the Flood. That covenant included the command not to eat blood, carried over in the New Testament (Acts 15:29). It included the command to execute murderers, carried over into the New Testament (Rom 13:4). In both the Adamic and Noahic versions, then, there are components of the command that are 1) tied to the command and 2) still in effect. Trying to set one part aside seems to be arbitrary.

Third, the Bible doesn't seem to change its view on the topic at any point. Nowhere do we find the suggestion, say, in the New Testament, that this is no longer an issue. What we do find is a repeated command (three times) and things like this:
Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psa 127:3-5)
Today's generations are suggesting precisely the opposite. Children are a burden -- an unnecessary burden -- and really ought not be thought of as anything really positive. "I mean, sure, if you want them go ahead, but don't try to tell us that there is anything fundamentally good about having children. We're just not buying it. Not when we can be so much better off without them." God seems to disagree.

There is the other consideration from Church history. All of Christendom prior to the 20th century or so agreed that this command remained in effect. They viewed marriage as aimed at offspring and sex as primarily reproductive. They saw no reason to suggest it was no longer in effect. This new view that it is not valid today is just that, a new view. Seems strange, as in so many other cases, that it took Christianity 2000 years to figure out what we know today when Jesus promised His Spirit would lead His disciples into all truth. Well, maybe, but it takes a really long time.

There are all sorts of problems with continuity and rationality if we discard this command. What others are not applicable? Take, for instance, that broad command given to Jesus's disciples: "Go, therefore, and make disciples ..." Now, that was actually given to Jesus's 12 disciples. (Okay, they were down to 11 by then.) Why would we assume it relates to us? Paul indicated that the Gospel had already been taken to the whole world in his day (Rom 1:8). Mission accomplished. Why make it our problem, too? And if you say it is, on what basis? And now we're going to have to pick through every single command and think, "Is that one in? Is that one out? Can I get away with this now?" Gets a bit messy. On the other hand, if we understand it to have been given not to Adam, but to Man, not to Noah, but to Man, not to Jacob, but to God's people, and we understand that God commends it, it would seem that we would do well to continue to pursue it without having to pick and choose what other commands to jettison because it wasn't given to me. There are indeed reasons to say that some of the Old Testament commands are no longer in effect today. The primary reason would be that specific New Testament commands or statements remove an Old Testament command. (An example would be about "clean foods", specifically addressed by both Jesus and God to Peter.) Since there is no biblical indication that this command was just for Adam or Noah or Jacob and there is no later passage that rescinds it, I have a problem.

Some things to clear up. First, commands apply only to people to whom they apply. For instance, a "eunuch" (Matt 19:12) must not have children because they are perpetually unmarried. Nor would the command apply to people who cannot have children. Hannah desperately wanted to have children. The Bible is quite clear that God prevented it (1 Sam 1:5-6). In Gen 29:31 God opened Leah's womb and in Gen 30:22 He opened Rachel's womb. God opens and closes the womb, so the inability to have children doesn't constitute a failure to obey such a command. Second, it says "Be fruitful and multiply" and goes on to indicate that "multiply" means "a minimum of 2.5 children per couple" ... right? No, of course not. There is no command regarding numbers. If it is in effect, it simply says to try. It speaks to willingness, not ability. Beyond this, a married couple can be fruitful and multiply. Perhaps it's by natural birth. Perhaps it's by adoption. But it is possible. And all Christians -- even the single ones -- can be fruitful and multiply by making disciples. Certainly neither Jesus nor Paul had offspring, but I cannot begin to classify them as not being fruitful and multiplying, even if it wasn't physical children. It doesn't have to be limited. But I can't bring myself to suggest that it is no longer applicable. Because then I can wonder, "Well, look, that whole 'Man was made in the image of God' thing was given to Noah and I don't see any reason I shouldn't be allowed to murder now. Can you?" Ridiculous? Of course. But hard to argue against once you start that way. And I won't recommend expelling couples who refuse to have children, but I can't seem to find a reasonable argument to agree with the view that this Prime Directive is no longer applicable. So, I'll stick to it and recommend others to do the same.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Argument Sketch

Have you ever seen Monty Python's classic Argument Sketch? A customer comes in for an argument. "I'd like to have an argument, please." He mistakenly walks into the wrong room and is yelled at, but then clears it up. "I came here for an argument!!" "Oh, I'm sorry! This is abuse." And he finally ends up in the right room for an argument.

Most of the argument is a back and forth where one or the other makes a claim and the opponent denies it. "Yes it is". "No, it isn't." "Yes it is". "No, it isn't." Finally the customer complains. "This isn't an argument ... It's just contradiction!" He asserts, "An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition." ("No, it isn't." "Yes it is". "No, it isn't.") The customer goes on to say, "Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says." It is a short and humorous routine. Not as good as the Dead Parrot routine, of course, but it makes me laugh.

I shouldn't, of course. That's because it's too close to home. How many times does it happen in real life? A lot.

"You know, the Bible says that it's a sin for a man to lie with a man as with a woman." "No, it doesn't." "Yes, it does."

"I read in my Bible that husbands and wives have different commands and roles to play." "No, they don't." "Yes, they do."

"All references in Scripture to marriage are always in terms of male and female without exception." "No, they're not." "Yes, they are."

And then it seems to go in reverse.

They will say something like, "It may look like it says what you think it says, but it actually means something different." And I'll answer, "But, my position lines up with the text, the context, and the history of the Church's understanding of the passage in question." "No, it doesn't." "Yes, it does."

You get the idea. Much like that Monty Python skit, they rarely offer any genuine evidence for their contradiction (using the Monty Python definition for "contradiction"). They don't address the questions raised or answer the problems their suggestions require. Then, they assume that the argument is settled. They've made their point. Argument concluded. Now ... how can you possibly hold your position in an irrational manner like that when we've already settled that it's wrong?

You know, I really begin to wonder exactly what a "compelling argument" really looks like.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Telling the Story

What goes into the standard "story"? Well, you have main characters, of course. And you have a storyline, of course. That is, the story has a beginning and an end and a point, a purpose, a reason for being told. There is, inherent in all good stories, another component -- crisis.

What story worth reading, seeing, or hearing have you ever encountered that didn't have a crisis? There is the initial set up with introduction of characters and circumstances. There is the build up where we learn to identify and love the protagonist(s) or despise the antagonist(s). And then, almost without exception, you encounter a crisis. Something goes wrong. Sometimes very wrong. It looks bad for our hero. Will he make it? Will she survive? How can they get through this? And then you have the denouement, the outcome, the resolution of plot intricacies and dramatic conditions. The crisis is resolved and, true or not, stated or not, our main characters can live happily ever after.

We are, as Christians, commanded to "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). As the hymn says, "We've a story to tell to the nations." We do it in the way we live. We do it in our daily interactions and conversations. And we do it quite clearly in our Sunday worship. Are we including the story we're supposed to include?

Often in churches I've seen and heard we don't want to tell the story. We want to feel that rush of "Ah, it is resolved!" without hearing what was resolved. We want the "happily ever after" feeling without a noting the reason that it was ever in question. Our worship is often sadly lacking in "bad news" in our rush to share the "good news".

Good news is not good news on its own. It is only good in contrast to something else. Telling you, "Good news, you lost your left hand" would make no sense on its own. "That's not good news! What's wrong with you?" It would only make sense if, for instance, the other three people in the party lost both hands. Now there is a comparison point, a contrast. One of my favorite examples is the fellow who was asked to housesit while his friends went on a trip. He picks them up from the airport on their return and tells them, "Good news! Your house is still standing!" "Ummm, well, it should be standing, shouldn't it? How is that good news?" "Oh, I forgot to tell you, there was a fire and the neighborhood burned down, but your house wasn't touched. Your house is still standing." See, in contrast to the loss, the ambivalent news becomes good news.

When we fail, on Sunday morning, to share the bad news in our worship and our preaching, we are not telling the story. We are not properly presenting the good news. We are not sharing the gospel. Only in contrast to the depths of our depravity and the horror of sin and God's righteous wrath can we find good news in salvation. "Good news! You can be right with God!!" "Ummm, well, why shouldn't I be?" See? Without the bad news, the good news doesn't mean much. And in our living, sharing, and worship, we need to be including the whole story in order to properly "proclaim the gospel to the whole creation."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

True to Form

Some time ago he was walking into a store and noticed a woman coming in behind him. He was raised to be a gentleman, so he held the door for her. She was miffed. He got an ear full. "You men are all alike. Thinking we can't open our own doors. Thinking you're so superior. Thinking you're better than we are. You're just a male chauvinist pig!" She didn't even stand around to hear his humble response. "I'm sorry. No respect intended."

But he's had her harangue in his head ever since. It stuck with him. And lately he's started to identify with the whole "pig" idea. I mean, he's American, so you know he eats too much. That's a pig, isn't it? And he is happy about law enforcement which closely identifies him with those euphemistically referred to as "pigs" in the police force. He's not always neat, and everyone knows that's indicative of a pig. And he does try to open doors for women (and men, but let's not get bogged down here) and show respect to women and all that, which, after all, seems to be the definition of "male chauvinist pig". He's realizing, now, that he's a pig trapped in a human body.

So he's doing his research. They tell him that pig flesh is the closest thing to human flesh, so perhaps it won't be a difficult procedure. But he's happiest as a pig, so he thinks the right thing to do is to see if he can be changed into pig form. He is, after all, a pig inside, so no one should complain if he changes outside. He has to follow his heart, you know, and not be stuck in a overly rigid cultural mold that says, "If you're born a human, you have to stay a human." And in the meantime, he supposes he can start to live like one. It is how he feels, so it should be the right and moral thing to do ...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ain't No Slippery Slope

I know, two in one day, but I had to put this out there when I saw it.

From an article on Monday from Slate by Jillian Keenan, we find this conclusion:
The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us. So let’s fight for marriage equality until it extends to every same-sex couple in the United States—and then let’s keep fighting. We’re not done yet.
Remember, a slippery-slope argument is only a fallacy if it's not a slippery slope. When the slope actually begins to slip, it's an accurate and logical argument. So when mainstream voices are calling for the legalization of polygamy and polyamory on the basis of "marriage equity" from redefining (and note that she clearly recognizes that the definition is changing -- "The definition of marriage is plastic.") marriage to include same-sex couples, don't let them tell you yours is a "slippery slope argument" to be ignored. It is, in fact, the actual argument they are offering. And if "the definition of marriage is plastic", remember what we do when we no longer need our plastic. We cut it up and get rid of it. Many have suggested that this is the end game. And there really is no reason to doubt it.

That which must not be asked

There is, in a popular book and movie series, a character referred to as "He who must not be named." (Believe it or not, they actually made a documentary of the same name about the character. I mean, seriously, folks, it's a fictional character.) I've been mulling over "that which must not be asked."

In Christian circles we are encouraged to explore tough questions. What does the Bible say about sex? What has the Church historically believed about, say, homosexuality or marriage? What is the godly view of race relations? Questions that, in a politically-correct charged culture, might be considered inflammatory. But we can hunt down answers to these questions because "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." If your aim, then, is the truth, you can't go wrong, right? Sometimes the answers to these questions can cause tension or contention. Actually discovering what the Bible says, for instance, about divorce or corporal punishment or sex outside marriage will likely land you outside the current cultural norm. But it's all good because we want to see things from God's perspective, not just our world's or our own.

There is, however, a question often classified as "that which must not be asked". You typically won't hear it in polite company. You will not likely hear it among family members. You will almost never hear it asked face to face. It is just not a question that polite Christians ask. What is this horror? "Are you sure you're a Christian?"

That's right. Never question that. Don't ask it. Don't even think it. Don't question your own salvation. That's called "doubt" and we all know that "one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed." And never ever ask it about people close to you. You know, your wife, your husband, a child, a beloved family member, a dear friend. If they name it, they claim it. It is wrong to ask. It is beyond rude; it is offensive. Bringing up a question like that is an assault on the character of that loved one and you're wrong for doing it. Oh, sure, question the salvation of a heretic or an opponent, but never that of someone near and dear to you.

And, to be honest, I don't really get it. Someone told me, in hushed tones, "I don't really tell anyone this, but I'm not really sure if my son is saved." As if it was a secret concern that was really wrong to consider. But why is it? What could be more important? What could be more serious, more worthy of consideration? If there is evidence of a problem there, I would think that any loving Christian would feel compelled to ask the question. I mean, it's not like there is the fear of a fashion faux pas or something. "No, dear, that shirt doesn't go with those pants." No, if this isn't right, it is an eternal problem. And if you love someone, how could you not be concerned about their eternal condition?

It feels like insanity. You know, it's like you're dear husband is showing signs of chest pains and arm numbness and you don't want to be offensive and ask, "Are you okay?" Ask! It could be a heart attack! Your doctor finds symptoms of a fatal disease that is treatable but doesn't tell you because it might hurt your feelings. That's not genuine concern. That's stupidity. Considering the seriousness of the question, I would think it would be mandatory for someone who loves another and sees reasons to question their spiritual condition to explore the question.

But it's not just me. It's not just my feelings and thinking on the subject. The Bible repeatedly says the same thing. On those who doubt as well as the seriousness of the question, Jude writes, "Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh" (Jude 22-23). James warns that faith by itself is not saving faith (James 2:14, 17). Paul was careful to ask about himself often "lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27). And to the rest of us he warned, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? -- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Cor 13:5).

It is possible to be self-deceived, to believe you are "in the faith" when you are not, to believe you are "qualified" when you are not. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. The god of this world is willing to blind us to the truth. And we are commanded to examine ourselves, to have mercy on those who doubt, and to snatch them from the fire if possible. It is not a minor question. "Do you believe in full-immersion baptism or sprinkling?" "Is it a sin to smoke?" These are questions we do ask and might cause sparks. But if you love those around you, how can you not ask "that which must not be asked" if you see reasons to ask it? And if you are asked by someone who loves you, set aside your pride and see if there might be some reason for concern. It isn't a small matter and no one is immune from error. If you love God, you will welcome the opportunity to obey by examining yourself to see if you're in the faith. This should not be the question that must not be asked.

Two important points that need to be brought out with this kind of post.

First, the absolute key to asking or being asked the question, "Are you saved?" is love. It is routine for hateful skeptics and apathetic doubters to attack your beliefs and there is no reason to expect that these people are asking out of love, so I can't imagine why there would be a reason to examine their question. It's a no-win. If you conclude they're right, they're delighted. If you conclude they're wrong, they don't care. The absolute essential in asking whether a person is saved is whether or not you love them and the absolute essential for accepting the question is whether or not they love you.

Second, despite my assertion that it is possible to be self-deceived, a common misconception, then, is that certainty is wrong. Certain Christian groups and all skeptics will argue that certainty is wrong, even evil. The Roman Catholics have even made an official statement on it that assurance of faith is wrong. This fits nicely with the double standard of the pseudo-Christian who will claim "I am confident I'm saved but it's wrong that you should be." It does not fit nicely with Scripture where, for instance, John wrote, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13). If John wrote so that you may know that you have eternal life, it must be possible to know it. While we are capable of being self-deceived, a perpetual doubt is not wise, healthy, or even biblical, and those who claim it is are self-deceived, not recognizing their own cognitive dissonance.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Let the Word Dwell in you Richly

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col 3:16).
I like that verse. It puts a new spin on the biblical use of music as well as the methods by which believers ought to communicate. Paul here says to use "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" for the purpose of "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom". Imagine if our Sunday morning churches did this. They wouldn't just sing songs in the hopes of producing the proper emotional response. They would select and use songs for teaching and admonishing. Given the nearly magical power of music to move you apart from your mental faculties, this would offer a powerful tool to engage both mind and emotion in the service of the King.

But, hold on a minute. What does that first part mean? "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." It informs the rest of the verse. That whole "teaching and admonishing" thing is linked to this. Apparently "teaching and admonishing" is the way we work out this indwelling of the word of Christ. So, what is it?

Well, we might approach this by asking what it is not. It is not a disregard for the word of Christ. A popular view today is that the Bible is a good book (they even use the term "good book"), but certainly not infallible or even completely reliable. That view wouldn't fit with the concept of letting the "word of Christ dwell in you richly". And, of course, it is a known fact that a lot of us who call ourselves Christians don't really spend much time with our Bibles. First, we don't know about it. What is the order? What is the content? What does it say? Beyond that, it isn't our priority or our companion. "Read my Bible? Yeah, I will, but I just don't seem to have much time for that." We always make time for what is important to us. And if the Bible is our friend, our intimate, the voice of God to one who loves God, then a lot of things would slide before we failed to make time for the Word of God. So "let the Word dwell in you richly" is not a lowered view of Scripture or a cursory knowledge of Scripture. Neither makes sense with the phrase "dwell in you richly."

The text suggests that Christians ought to be people of the Word. If bibliolatry is the worship of the Bible, we ought not be confused with a bibliolater. If, as the dictionary suggests, bibliolatry is an excessive reverence for the Bible as literally interpreted, we should own that one. No, we don't worship the Bible, but it sure can look like it because we don't merely know this stuff, we live it. That is, the book itself is not sacred, but we highly honor what God says. It shapes our daily existence. It informs how we see life. It defines reality. The Bible is not our sole source of knowledge or morality, but it is our sole authority in matters of faith and practice. Since the Bible is God-breathed for us, we cannot separate the Bible from God. It is His Word.

The most common error we see in Christianity today is a light handling of the Word of God. "It's a matter of private interpretation. It is simply a matter of opinion. It's a good thing, but certainly not the final word on what is or isn't true. Besides, who has time to really get into all that, you know, with computers and television and movies and all? There are only so many hours in a day." That would not be letting the Word dwell in you richly. The opposite error -- where the Bible is the only thing there is, the only source of information, etc. -- is not as common. But it, too, is a failure to let the Word dwell in you richly.

We need to be people of the Word. We should be reading, studying, memorizing our Bibles. We ought to know what it says not merely verse by verse, but in its entirety. We ought to be listening to God speaking to us through His Word. And we ought to be living His Word. We need to be teaching and admonishing one another. We need to let the Word dwell in us richly. No excuses will do.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Biblical Weddings

Recently over on a post from 2011 a lively if sometimes strange discussion took place regarding the biblical perspective on marriage. (The post was on the Bible on Sex and, of course, held the position that biblically moral sex only occurred within a marriage, so, of course, the question had to be asked, "What constitutes a biblical marriage?") In the end, more than one voice in that discussion argued that weddings were not biblical. (I was not one of those voices.) Not that they are bad, mind you, and maybe they are even recommended at least in today's culture, but they are not biblical in the strictest sense, as in biblically standard or recommended. So I thought I'd take a closer look.

First, the Bible does not prescribe a marriage ceremony. There is no explanation of what processes should take place, what vows should be exchanged, who should be there, or what to serve at the reception (because, of course, no receptions are commanded, either). So we're not going there. There are, however, biblical accounts of weddings. Perhaps the most famous is the wedding at Cana. It is commonly understood that the mere presence of Jesus at that wedding constituted His (and, therefore, God's) endorsement of weddings. That is, by Jesus being there, He was saying, "I'm in favor of a wedding at the beginning of a marriage." Indeed, Jesus spoke often of weddings (e.g., Matt 9:15; 22:2-13; Matt 25:1-12; Mark 2:19; Luke 12:3; 14:8). All well and good. So those who would argue that weddings are not biblical will need to explain why Jesus endorsed same. Second, we know that Revelation ends (or nearly ends) with a wedding -- the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Clearly weddings in Scripture are a good thing, endorsed and encouraged by God.

Earlier versions of marriage in Israel (I'm using Israel because they operated as a theocracy and as God's chosen people and the rest ... didn't) also included a wedding. This is because the Old Testament version of marriage was not a "solemn commitment", but a covenant (Mal 2:14). A covenant is, among other things, a binding agreement, typically formal, between two (or more) persons to do something specified. This is far more binding than an agreement or commitment. It is even more binding than a contract, another common term we use when speaking of marriage. Contracts typically have loopholes, clauses that allow the contract to end. "If you do xxx then I will do yyy." And, of course, if you don't, I won't. A marriage covenant, though, is "I will do xxx and you will do yyy without recourse if xxx and yyy are not done." Contracts focus on "what do I get out of it?" and covenants aim for "what am I required to bring?" The Hebrew word for "covenant" is berith, which means "to cut", because the Hebrew concept of a covenant included a cutting ceremony in which blood was shed to indicate, "May God to this to me if I fail to fulfill my promises." It's serious, folks.

Jesus's parable of the virgins (Matt 25:1-12) provides an illustration of a traditional Jewish marriage process. (It's a process, not an event, because it takes place over time.) The typical process started with the father sending the son to purchase his bride-to-be, paying the price for her. He would then leave and return to his father to prepare a place for them to live. Having accomplished the preparations, he would return (at a not clearly known time) with a shout and a trumpet to retrieve his bride. They would marry (with family and friends present) with great celebration and, having consumated the marriage, he would take her home to be with him. Now, I'm sure you can see a parallel there to something bigger. And that's part of the point. Marriage is something bigger. It is between a man and a woman, sure, but it is an image of Christ and His Bride. Christ came and paid the price for His Bride. Then He returned to prepare a place for her. He will come, at a time not clearly known, with a shout and retrieve His Bride. They will share the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (you know, like a wedding) and then return to be with Him forever.

In Scripture and in Jewish history, marriages were more than just "consummation". There are those that argue that biblical marriage is just "leave and cleave" -- if you choose to be married, you're married. Live together and have sex and the marriage is consummated. End of discussion. It doesn't quite fit with the biblical picture. Nor does it fit with history. From dowries and arranged marriages on, more than a mere "Let's just be hitched" has been the norm rather than the exception. Abraham formalized a wife for Isaac and so on. History shows that Egypt made a big deal about weddings. In Rome, Caesar Augustus (you know, the one in charge when Jesus was born) penalized men who put off their weddings. Rome even gave us the word "matrimony". Public weddings "sealed the deal", so to speak, making it publicly clear that these two were married. So Scripture, Jewish history, New Testament accounts, and general human history all attest to the value of weddings.

If you, as a single person, should, some day, find yourself on a deserted island with no hope of rescue with a woman to whom you are not married but wish to be, clearly a wedding would be out of the question. I'd say go ahead and solemnize your marriage between the two of you. If you, on the other hand, find yourself living in a civilized country that makes marriage laws that you are able to obey, I'd suggest (based on Rom 13:1-5) you follow the legal procedure and, indeed (based on the principle of Rom 14:20-21), have a wedding. It doesn't define "marriage", but it isn't an unbiblical or uncommendable part. Jesus favors (present tense, given He has one coming up) it. Just my recommendation.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Marital Sex

I know ... provocative title, but this is a serious question. We often run into a collision between "real life" and what the Bible says we're supposed to be or do. An example would be the military member who is commanded by Christ to make disciples and commanded by his commander not to. Collision!

More often, however, it is a collision of ideology. There is no doubt at all that the Bible, for instance, indicates that in a standard household the husband is the head of the wife (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3). Now, I'm sure you're all aware that this statement collides headlong with the more popular egalitarian view where "we're coequals; neither is head over the other -- we share it" concept of the day. And, look, doesn't that sound more "civilized", more "advanced", and, hey, even more loving? So we're struck with not merely a tension, but a direct contradiction between what might appear to be right and what is clearly stated in Scripture as correct.

One of those that I've been mulling over recently is this one. Do with it what you will.
Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another (1 Cor 7:2-5).
Now, this is one that clearly collides with both the good will of any decent husband as well as the viewpoint of the culture. According to this command from Paul, it would appear that husbands and wives owe each other sex. (I know that in the majority of cases it is a question of a man with a stronger drive and the woman withholding for various reasons, but let's not limit it to that.)

Now, we know intuitively that the good husband is not going to "force himself" on his wife sexually. A loving husband will wait until she's "in the mood". No decent man would expect his wife to "perform" (See how the language just demands that the text is not right?) when she doesn't feel like it. After all, husbands are supposed to love their wives sacrificially, and certainly sacrificing our own needs for sex in favor of our wives would be a good and right thing, right? But, doesn't that collide with this passage? Doesn't that say that Paul was mistaken and really represented the situation incorrectly?

The text says that the husband does not have authority over his own body nor does the wife over hers. It seems as if he's saying, "It doesn't matter if you're in the mood. You need to give yourself to your spouse." It seems as if he's saying that a godly marriage requires that the husband give his body to his wife to meet her needs and the wife give her body to her husband to meet his needs and "in the mood" is irrelevant. It seems as if it's a lot closer to the version of yesteryear where a wife thought she ought to "service her husband" to keep him happy because that was part of her duty as a wife (and vice versa for husbands).

Now, you have to be honest. That sounds ... archaic. It sounds barbaric. But you also must recognize that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and typically the culture is not going to offer you a biblical perspective on things. Someone once told me that the easiest way to determine what is right to do is ask yourself what comes naturally ... and do the opposite. This seems similar.

So, does this text say what it appears to say? If so, what are we to conclude? Is it possible to have a biblically sound marriage without the wife engaging her husband sexually or vice versa? Does the text violate our popular "in the mood" concept? I'm not willing to entertain the "Paul was a mysogynist and was clearly wrong" argument, but I do want to know if I'm missing it somewhere because it looks like this is telling husbands and wife to engage in sex regularly to avoid the temptation to sexual immorality. Does it? Some insight and even clarification might be helpful.

Monday, May 13, 2013

It is us

Google has offered an inexpensive laptop for people to buy. It's called the Chromebook, and it's available for just $250 or so, lower than just about any computer you can imagine. It looked interesting, but then I realized that it was designed for use online. They offer "offline apps for the rare times when you’re disconnected from the web", but, let's face it, how often does that happen, right? No, this isn't designed to be a standalone laptop. It only has 16GB of Solid State hard drive. You're supposed to store stuff on the "Google Drive Cloud Storage". This computer is inexpensive and cool, perhaps, but it is designed to be an online computer.

We are an online society these days. We play online. We work online. We connect online. We talk online. We share online. We fight online. We make up online. There is hardly any escape from it. Our phones are online, for pity sake. My youngest son decided that paying for the Internet was just too much money, so ... he doesn't. And the rest of us are trying to figure out how to keep in touch with him without Facebook or email or ...? I mean, how do you live offline???!!!

Some have argued that the Internet is making us stupid. This isn't obvious at first look. After all, we now have easy access to just about every piece of information that human beings can have. That's an exaggeration, of course, but not by much. So it would seem like we'd be smarter. (Someone said, "My phone is so smart that I can access all the information that is available to human beings and I use it to access funny pictures of cats and pictures with captions.") But think about it from this perspective. Did you study harder for a closed-book test or an open-book test? You see, as it turns out, we don't work as hard at remembering stuff if we know we don't have to remember it. A report from Scientific American suggests that the very act of reading from the pages of a book will cause you to remember what you read better than reading from screen. Farris Jabr reports that reading is "topographical". You can remember, for instance, where places are based on landmarks that you saw around them. Well, Jabr says that you remember what you read based on where on the page it occurred. (It's funny, too, because I can well remember my mother telling me about a particular passage she read in Scripture and looking through her Bible to find it. "It was over here on this side of the page." And she'd be right.) Apparently reading from physical books works better for human memory than reading from computer screens. So by these and other standards we may be losing out.

Of course, the big concern for so many, especially Christians, is the rife immorality. Pornography never had such sway as when it gained the Internet. It's no longer "in the closet", but something in which some delight openly. Everyone knows about the danger of chatrooms where child molesters are trolling for underage kids to entice and abuse. We're all aware that the person representing themselves on the Internet may not be the person they really are. And there is the very real factor that interactions on the Internet are tainted with some level of anonymity. Face it, people can get really mean in online interactions who would never be so mean in person. But because there is a buffer, a distance, no real connection, they feel as if they can get away with it. Part of it is the distance. Part of it is the lack of feedback. He said it with a smile on his face as humor and she read it without the smile as serious, and it becomes a problem. I'm aware of that problem in writing this blog because most of the time I'm somewhat amused in general when I write, but I'm certain it doesn't come across to readers without the smile, the twinkle in the eye, the wink, the clues that tell you that information.

Paul Miller did an experiment in which he stayed offline for a year. He wanted to see how life was different without all that ... mess. How much time do we waste and how much trouble do we get into and how much genuine relationship do we miss out on because of the electronic world in which we live? Well, he was going to find out. After a year, he has written his report. He points out an interesting fact that I wish to pass on to you.

It's not the Internet. It's not technology. It's not the phones or the lack thereof. It's not the television or the media. These are not the problem. As it turns out, "We have met the enemy and he is us." As it turns out, it's not a technology problem, but a sin problem. This may come as a shock to you, but sin was just as rampant before Al Gore invented the Internet.

Are there problems with technology that we're missing because we're so enamored with it? I'm certain there are. I've written in the past about how the medium of television, without regard to the messages in it, can be harmful. I know that the hours I've spent on the computer (it is my profession) have contributed to decline in my eyesight. And there is little doubt that the Internet provides access to sins that would have been more difficult to reach in the past. I'm not saying that we don't need to be aware or cautious. But neither is it right or safe to think that it's all television or Internet or those evil smartphones to blame. No, that would be us.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day, 2013

I was blessed from birth with a remarkable mother. Not only has her defining characteristic for my whole life been her sincere devotion to Christ, but she has showered upon those around her a veritable treasure trove of wisdom. To this day I recall and even apply many of her wise quotes, from those on common everyday life to spiritual truths.

I know, for instance, that bananas are best when they are flecked with brown and have a golden hue, and that you should never put bananas in the refrigerator. Why? Because she used to sing us the Chiquita Banana song and it was right there in the lyrics.

She has always enjoyed quoting Alice from Alice in Wonderland by assuring us that "One never knows ... and if one does know, one can't be quite sure." It really is a good position to take.

Some of her sayings exhibit keen insight into human nature. For instance, she is fond of saying, "'Yes, but' means 'No'." How true! We will even hand that to God, won't we? So, as an example, we might read, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it" (Pro 3:27) and realize we're not doing that. And we'll "agree" with God ... with stipulations. "Yes, but ..." and we'll give the reasons why we cannot or will not do it now. Which is a "no".

Now, as a person who is concerned (as, I believe, most human beings are) about what other people think of you, my mother had this bit of wisdom to offer: "You wouldn't be so concerned about what people thought of you if you knew how rarely they did." As it turns out, most people are so self-absorbed that they rarely do have the time or inclination to take notice of you. If they do, it is a fleeting notice. And if, as the vast majority of folks do, you don't stand out (because that's the definition of "normal"), it's very likely that you will not often be thought of very often at all. So don't waste too much time trying to be liked or worrying about what other people think of you. That attention might be better spent on thinking about what God might think of you.

She has offered concise statements that help clear up confusion in life. When we were young and would complain that we weren't getting our fair share -- "He's doesn't have to do as much work as I do" or "His piece of cake is bigger than mine" or some such -- she would offer this little piece of wisdom: "Who ever told you that life was fair?" And it's true! If you are going to go through life demanding nothing but fair and complaining when it isn't, you will go through life demanding and complaining.

One of the sayings for which she is famous requires a back story. A part of the family was eating out and my parents asked my younger sister what she wanted for desert. "I want lemon meringue pie." The waiter said, "We don't have any more lemon meringue pie." "Okay, so what do you want now?" "I want lemon meringue pie." My mother is fond, then, of saying "We don't have lemon meringue pie" when people express a demand for that which can't be had. "I want world peace." "We don't have lemon meringue pie." We very often in life get bogged down in desire and demand for things that just don't exist. The presidential election cycle of last year would be a prime example. "From the group of candidates offered on the ballot, we want to elect a good leader who can solve the large problems our country is facing." "We don't have lemon meringue pie." (By implication, then, "Get over it and move on.")

One that hit home in both good and bad ways was this one: "You know what you believe by what activates you." For the believer, there is often a concern about doubt. "I believe; help Thou mine unbelief." That kind of thing. But humans are interesting creatures in that, although we may say and even think that we believe or don't believe something, we will always act on what we truly believe. I may tell you there's a bomb under my desk, but if I don't act on that claim, you can be pretty sure I don't really believe it. So this might be comforting to the believer struggling with doubt while still working at being more Christ-like. That's good news. For the believer who claims to believe and, in fact, lives a life of sinful abandon, this is not good news and you need to check your faith because your actions suggest you believe something different than what you're telling us or yourself.

My mother has been a veritable font of wisdom, without exaggeration, from keeping bananas to my daily walk with Christ. From pithy and wise sayings to a genuine She is a constant joy, my "go-to" person with questions on biblical points, and a blessing from God. It seems a day doesn't go by that I am not touched by her positive influence in my life, and I am deeply grateful for her.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

First Amendment, Schmirst Amendment

A gesture of honoring God at a high school track meet disqualified the winning team. Not allowed.

When Obamacare was introduced, the Catholic Church protested. It would violate their religious convictions. The government agreed that the church wouldn't have to pay for contraceptives ... but the same protection didn't extend to Catholic universities, organizations, or hospitals.

When the legal playing field shifted and demanded that homosexual couples be allowed to adopt, the Catholic adoption agencies refused. The courts denied their suit and their only options were to either change their convictions or close their doors. They closed their doors.

In California, the people voted in Prop 8 as an affirmation that marriage was defined as the union of a man and a woman. Taken back to court, Prop 8 was overturned largely because "some who favored it did so from religious conviction".

A baker in Oregon was castigated for refusing on religious grounds to bake a wedding cake for two women. Now in Richland, Washington, a florist is sued for not selling flowers for a wedding to two men because she believed "biblically that marriage is between a man and a woman." In 2005 an innkeeper in Vermont was sued and lost for refusing to host a homosexual wedding and in 2006 a New Mexico photographer opted not to shoot a homosexual "commitment ceremony" and, literally, paid the price. A recent story out of Hawaii came out the same, with the owner of a bed and breakfast losing a suit for refusing on religious grounds to rent a single bed to a lesbian couple.

The florist wasn't, as it turns out, sued first by the men she refused to sell to. She was sued by the Washington Attorney General for violating the state's anti-discrimination law. The ACLU followed suit (little joke there) and filed for a public apology, a demand to change her policy, and a $5,000 contribution to a local LGBT youth center. Get that? Have convictions, stand for them, and expect to have them violated repeatedly.

Delaware's new bill that redefines marriage includes "protection for religious groups" ... but not for others of religious conviction. Ministers can choose not to serve a particular segment based on their convictions, but wedding vendors such as photographers, florists, bakers, etc. do not have the same protection. Neither does the Clerk of the Peace.

What is in common with all these stories? Yes, there is a whole lot of "look what 'gay marriage' is doing to religious freedom", but that isn't in all of these cases. Yes, it does look like religious persecution is starting in America, but it's a little hard to support the term "persecution" when it is so spotty and rare. What, then? The common element is religious convictions in the public square. Obama, for instance, allowed the Roman Catholic Church an exemption for contraceptives because the Roman Catholic Church is, well, a church. Their subsidiaries, their services, their other programs? Not protected. Neither are private citizens who own businesses such as Hobby Lobby. That is "the public square" and religious persuasion in the public square will not be countenanced. You are free to believe what you want in private; just don't exercise your religious convictions in public. That includes sports announcers, Christian track members, florists, bakers, or even voters. You still have your First Amendment right to your religious views, but only as long as they are private and don't affect anything or anyone in public. (And if your religious views require that they affect your public life, well, too bad. That one is right out, too.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Compelling Argument

Recently we had a very lively discussion on my post, "Truth by Vote". I warned that "compelling argument" did not necessarily equate to truth. It produced some conversation, sometimes friendly, sometimes contentious, about what I meant and whether it was true. It appears true, for instance, that the public is finding the "marriage equity" argument to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex people more compelling than the logical, historical, practical, and biblical argument to limit it to male and female. I indicated that the public opinion does not accurately reflect what is or isn't true. Some disagreed.

There is a component of the discussion that is important to consider and hasn't yet been touched. What compels? We speak of people being "compelled" to agree or disagree with an argument. What is it that compels people to one or the other?

Most people think of it as if we live in a vacuum, so to speak. We are balanced beings without any attraction in any direction and, when the force sufficient to move us comes along, we follow that force. In terms of physics, a body at rest tends to stay at rest. In order to move it, you have to apply an external force. In this case, it would be the most forceful argument.

Of course, that's a naive perception of the human being. We are not balanced beings without any attractions. We are full of internal forces at work impelling us in various directions at any given moment. We might curse or we might bless. We might help or we might hinder. We might be heroic or pusillanimous. (Sorry, I had to work that word in somewhere.) And tomorrow, it might be reversed. Because no human being is actually in a vacuum and all human beings are biased. All that humans do include bias. You know that grand news channel (if one exists) that insists they're reporting without bias (the one near me claims "without the spin")? Doesn't happen. Ever. There are always a variety of forces at work.

So, here comes our everyday public who will listen to two arguments and decide which was more "compelling". The suggestion -- the mistaken idea -- is that the best argument will win. This, unfortunately, fails to consider what forces are at work. Argue, for instance, that the smartest thing you can do is to run into traffic, and they'll laugh you off the stage. Throw a bag of money in the street, and they'll be stopping cars and risking their lives to run into traffic. Was it the most coherent argument? No, of course not. But it was the most compelling. That is, it properly engaged the forces already at work in the audience to obtain the desired outcome.

What forces are already at work in the public today that must be considered in questions like these? What existing forces might influence the outcome of a public debate on matters of Scripture, morality, and a biblical worldview? Humans suffer from a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9), so that's one issue. Appeal to the heart, not the mind, and you've got a winner ... that is often a lie. God declared that "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21), so moral issues examined by the unregenerate man will be dubious at best. Paul declared that "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God" (Rom 8:7), so arguments that favor God are not likely to be viewed favorably by unrepentant sinners. Indeed, the Bible tells us that those who are not in Christ walk "according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience", living "in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Eph 2:2-3), so the mere suggestion that humans are free agents without influence fails to take into account the prince of the power of the air. About them Scripture says, "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving" (2 Cor 4:4). So we're expecting a clear thinking, unbiased, reasonable response from the blinded, depraved (Rom 1:27) mind? That's not reasonable.

Look, I could go on. If you're conversant at all in Scripture, you must know that human beings are sinners at their core. They do not want what God wants and do want whatever they want for themselves. They are self-declared enemies of God, incapable of understanding the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). So we come along and offer arguments that do not feed the natural forces already at work in the general public. We should not be surprised that they don't find our arguments "compelling". Our arguments go against the forces already at work. Indeed, Jesus predicted that the world would hate us and Paul assured us that they would find our "good news" to be foolishness and offensive. Indeed, the only thing we can reasonably hope for is that God will work in the hearts of hearers, because things are not otherwise going to go our way.

So don't buy into that "compelling argument" concept. Humans are not unbiased. The discussion is not taking place in front of folk ready to be convinced to love God and His truth if you just give them the best argument. The deck is stacked, and not in your favor. This is why "the compelling argument" concept doesn't help determine what the truth is. Be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you. Contend for the faith once given to the saints. Put your trust in the Almighty. Don't cause problems for the truth with poor arguments, but don't expect the world to like you for good ones.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

What's Old is New Again

Perhaps you recall the story back in the Book of Acts about Peter healing the lame man at the gate of the temple. He asked for alms and Peter gave him that oh, so classic response, "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you." And then he said, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" (Acts 3:1-6) Well, of course, the authorities were delighted. They could see the cost of healthcare decreasing astronomically and they were deeply concerned about the welfare of the people and, being religious authorities, they were just plain tickled about seeing the unvarnished, undeniable hand of God at work. Or not. No, it didn't work out that way. Peter and John ended up on trial (Acts 4). The authorities demanded to know who authorized it and Peter gave his pleasant little speech (Acts 4:8-12) about "the stone that was rejected by you" and "there is salvation in no one else" -- stuff everyone loves to hear. In fact, the only thing that saved them was the fact that the man was healed and that the crowd was rejoicing about it. So, they tried to figure out what to do.
"In order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:17-20)
And, what's old is new again. The Pentagon has declared that it is against the law for Christians to share their faith with others and they will prosecute "on a case by case basis" for it. Mikey Weinstein, the president of The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is calling on the Air Force to enforce a regulation that they believe calls for the court martial of any service member caught proselytizing. "We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution." Weinstein called proselytizing a "national security threat" and compared it to rape. "The Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason." The Pentagon confirmed that Christian evangelism is against regulations.

Are you ready, Christians? The same rhetoric Weinstein is using in military terms is cast about in general terms by other groups, and the "compelling" arguments (by which I mean the "non-arguments that appeal so highly to the feelings of the general public without regard to facts or logic or even the law") are getting louder and more accepted. Are you ready, military Christians? It isn't far from the horizon. You will need to decide for yourself whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to man rather than to God. And it won't always have a pleasant outcome.